Staff Writer, The New Yorker and Author, Dark Money
Who are the people bankrolling our political system? New Yorker writer Jane Mayer takes us behind the scenes and exposes the powerful group of individuals who are shaping our country.
In her latest book, “Dark Money: the Hidden History Behind the Rise of the Radical Right,” Mayer traces the billions of dollars spent by the Kochs, the Scaifes, the Olins, and the Bradleys and uncovers their influences on policies related to climate change, the economy and more.
Mayer told a sold-out Climate One audience that her research led her to uncover the Koch brothers’ family connection to Hitler. “When you’re doing a book like this you really don't know what you’re gonna find,” she says. “It turned out that he and a partner were building a refinery…that became very important to the Hitler war effort in World War II.”
The Koch brothers’ interest in funding political causes started as a simple way to shelter the billions they had inherited from their father from taxes.
“They created a family foundation and…started pouring that into conservative causes,” Mayer says. “And they found that it gave them a lot of influence, to give away that kind of money every year. It makes you have a super loud voice in this country. And they kind of liked it.”
The need to protect their own business interests has made funding the anti-climate movement a major focus for the Kochs.
“Some of the biggest environmental cases in the country are against Koch Industries,” Mayer reports. “And I mean, not surprisingly, because the EPA classifies them as the largest producers of toxic waste in the country and one of the largest air polluters, climate polluters and water polluters.”
The Republican party’s assault on environmental issues is a fairly recent development, says Mayer.
“From the Nixon and the Bush presidencies, environmental policy was in the very beginning a bipartisan issue,” she says. “And what's happened is, it's been captured by one party. This anti-climate change push comes from the Republican Party, which is funded by the fossil fuel industry. And they have focused their efforts on that and they really moved the whole party in their direction with money.”
“And there's really no other explanation for it except the money that's going into those people's pockets. I'm sorry.”
Mayer’s current research focuses on hedge fund manager Bob Mercer, a major contributor to Donald Trump’s campaign and the subject of her recent New Yorker article. His billions, she reports, has allowed Mercer and his family “to kind of indulge their wildest dreams.
“And among the dreams was really changing the direction of American politics. His daughter [Rebecca Mercer] is the political activist in the family. And she's wanted to really change the kind of politics we have in the country. Again, they want to push it way off to the kind of libertarian far right.”
Other figures Mayer writes about in “Dark Money” include Pittsburgh newspaper magnate Richard Scaife and businessman John Olin. With more money than anyone can imagine, asks host Greg Dalton, what motivates them?
“What I discovered with a lot of these people is for many of them there's never enough money,” says Mayer.
“The money is a measure of their success and power, and maybe their acclaim – and who knows, maybe it's their father's love, whether or not they got enough in the inheritance.”
Mayer didn’t have the opportunity to talk with many of the billionaires she writes about in “Dark Money” – but she’d like to. When asked which of the living figures in her book she’d like to interview, she didn’t hesitate with her answer.
“I really would love to talk to Charles Koch,” replies Mayer. “I think he’s a fascinating and major figure in our politics.”